David Brailer being a no-show at the annual TEPR healthcare information technology show in Salt Lake City last week was akin to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir skipping Sunday service.
The faithful were gathered at the 21st annual edition of what is arguably one of the most important healthcare IT shows, whose uncondensed name-Toward an Electronic Patient Record-precisely describes the direction in which Brailer hopes to lead the industry.
A year ago, Brailer, HHS' national coordinator for health information technology, was just four days into his new job as the nation's healthcare IT evangelist when he flew to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to deliver his first sermon as the TEPR keynote speaker. It was the start of what's been a yearlong song of praise from the IT community for Brailer, a physician and technology company founder.
Naturally, he was invited back to TEPR, which is put on by the Medical Records Institute, Boston. This year, Brailer was allotted 45 minutes to present "An Overview of the Federal Landscape," headlining the government-initiatives track that was billed in the official program as "the meat of the (three-day) conference."
But all of us have bosses, and Brailer's are HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and President Bush. Just days before the show, they told him to remain in Washington, according to his office and a notice posted at the conference. No explanation was made available on what kept Brailer in D.C.
Those timid hospitals
Now hospitals in one state can truly say they are between a rock and a hard place on billing the uninsured. After a year of national controversy over pricing and collection tactics by some hospitals, a top aide to Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told the Boston Globe he wants hospitals in his state to be more aggressive with collections.
Tim Murphy is Romney's policy director, and he's leading the governor's effort to expand insurance coverage. The initiative includes insurance policies that keep premiums low through high deductibles and copayments for hospital care. Murphy told the Globe that those elements of the plan would fail if those payments can't be collected, because hospitals would pressure insurers to make up the difference, leading in turn to higher premiums.
"Hospitals ... are on the passive side" in terms of collection, Murphy told the paper. Hospitals need to demand more payment upfront and use all legal options in getting paid. "Hospitals use a softer approach than credit agencies. We would expect them to be more aggressive."
Hospitals' uninsured billing tactics are under fire in Congress, in the courts and from state attorneys general, but always for being too aggressive.
"Hospitals are as aggressive as it is right for them to be," Joe Kirkpatrick, vice president of healthcare finance at the Massachusetts Hospital Association, told the Globe. "While it is important that they try to collect every dollar they can for services they provide, they certainly do not want to be a barrier to care for the people who need it."
It is almost certainly one of the most elegant, mellifluous names ever attached to a healthcare structure in America: the Antonella and Uberto Visconti di Modrone Campanile, a 100-foot, glass-and-steel bell tower that will be the centerpiece of a $311 million building project at St. Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta.
And it may also be the only building in the healthcare industry that takes the surname of a member of Italian royalty. Uberto Visconti di Modrone was an authentic duke of Milan who became a generous benefactor of Atlanta's last faith-based hospital after arriving from Italy three decades ago. His ancestors received their titles during the Crusades in the early 15th century, hospital officials say.
To Outliers, the stylish moniker is definitely an aesthetic improvement over, say, the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami or the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Those names don't exactly roll off the tongue.
"A bell tower by any other name would sound just as sweet," says Phil Mazzara, president of St. Joseph's Mercy Foundation, paying homage to a play that happens to involve a couple of other Italian families, the Capulets and Montagues.
Visconti di Modrone, a member of the foundation's board for 10 years before his death in December 2001 at age 74, left a bequest to the hospital that eventually grew to about $1 million after subsequent donations from friends, associates and his only daughter, Chiara. A wealthy businessman in Italy's textile industry who is related to famous Italian film director Luchino Visconti, he and his wife, Antonella, moved to Atlanta to escape the constant threats of kidnappings by the Red Brigades and to ensure that their daughter would become a U.S. citizen, Mazzara says.
Hospital officials decided to honor their friend and longtime supporter by placing his graceful name on the new campanile. It will rise above a garden serving as the centerpiece of the hospital's new campus, now set to open in 2009.
Says Mazzara, who happens to be Italian himself: "I don't know if there's any other healthcare facility (in the U.S.) named after an Italian duke, but I do know there's not another in this state."